She lay awake until the noises of departing guests, of shutting doors, the many customary sounds that prelude the repose of human beings, were engulfed one by one in the silence, and there was left but the heavy rhythmical breathing of that silence out of the sea. Thoughts began then to ebb and flow in her mind like tides confused by emerging rocks breaking the quiet surge of the moon-drawn waters. A huge pointing mass stood, parting these brain-tides; a light-tower, it seemed, pointing to a way — which way?
She knew it in her soul to be Boris. He had emerged from the sullen depth of destiny and confronted the ship that had lost harbor and drifted round its North Star, a star so far above that it failed to point to any horizontal course, showing only vertical unearthly immensities. He had emerged, a rock bearing an earth-focused flame. Though the ray of light did not yet pierce the darkness with the certitude of a goal, at least it threw upon the limitless expanse of life a path. A path draws to its treading the exile. It calls one to its presumable end, to the lure of a somewhere that would give meaning to the path. Or is it that the path itself is its own meaning and justification?
The path drew, had power. She could feel the little molecules of her soul trembling like iron filings subjected to a magnet; they quiver, they rebel, they rush upon each other in sudden tragic excitement; they are torn in confusion from their natural agglomerated state; they stammer silently bewildered questions; they lift themselves, point upward, tragic unfinished ends. And the quivering subsides — quickly for us, but how slowly for the vertiginous atoms! There has come direction. The metal dust has taken form, meaning. It tells the tale of cosmic energy that radiates through them, that orders them, that gives them significance.
Rania felt herself being ordered into a new meaning, into the meaning perhaps which was the flower toward which her life-stalk had grown painfully, stubbornly, beyond her conscious will. It hurt. Something was crying inside, was being torn; some dear, sweet voice was bewailing a consummation, which nevertheless it knew unavoidable. It only wanted to be heard a little longer, a little longer to sing its lovesong, its beautiful earth-born tones which had lost bitterness and understood, yet were broken-hearted, poor flapping wings of pain.
Late in the night she fell asleep. But consciousness went on in a strange forbidding way. The shapes and lights she had often dreamt of during her youth appeared again. But now they seemed no longer to be outside, but within her. She herself was shapes and lights churned by an unseen, yet felt presence for some mysterious alchemy. She was it, yet not entirely it. A strange feeling of duality pervaded her inner being. She was no longer an eye, but more like a vast ear vibrating to sound-shapes that struck its quivering strings. These sounds were outside, yet she was them. She was the utterer and the recipient.
She told herself words she could not yet understand.
Something then seemed to happen, as if an awesome decision had been made final, irrevocable. Something trembled frantically within. It seemed the whole world was shaking with a vision of expectancy. And presently a huge fiery mass triangularly shaped at the lower end, cubical above, was seen, which was lowered into her very soul and being. It seared. It hollowed the soft soul-substance, as a hot iron the flesh. The agony of it was horrible, almost unbearable. Tears streamed from the sleeping face. Rania awoke, shattered by uncontrollable sobs. She bit her lips, choked her moaning with the sheets. Pain, excruciating pain . . . pain which seemed to have no cause, which racked the soul.
When she regained somewhat her peace, she remembered vaguely symbolical dreams, the meaning of which at one moment seemed illuminating, at others to vanish into sheer fancy. Some majestic figure had put a white and gold mantle upon her; it was so heavy. She could hardly bear it; as she was near collapsing, the walls opened and there was a heap of little children calling, hand stretching toward her, famished . . . and wolves sprang from the dark and bled them to death, crushed their bones. Then a great storm arose within a sea which was made of houses and trees and fields. A steamer was sinking amidst heavy fumes, fog perhaps or smoke . . . She was hurrying, grabbing a man or two. Then the jump; far-off land barely visible through the black darkness . . . a voice in the distance calling . . . she caught only a word or two . . . "sacrifice . . . willing victim. . . " Then it was the room again. She tried to take away the white mantle. It became a shroud. It clung to the flesh. Someone tore it. Inside, it was red with her own blood. She was alone, naked. Men passed by who stared at her, who sneered, spit at her. Then her body became changed into the likeness of pulsating triangles, cubes, cylinders. Wheels whirled, huge sledgehammers pounded flesh into form. A great wind rose with swirling dust. Dust became earth; it clung to her. She became a stone of strangely shaped mass. Mortar was being poured from above. She saw there were other stone-masses like her; they were all being cemented together. They stood like a wall. Icy gales pounded upon the outer surface. The wall contracted with a strange rhythm like living tissue. She had become a little cell in the skin of some immense being. At times, poisonous acrid matter passed through, coming from within, released through her. In the within, she felt lives dreaming beautiful deeds, eager young minds playing and loving . . . happy.
She did not plunge again into the whirlpool of dreams. She stared with wide opened eyes into the dawn, bubbling in ripples of effervescent silver from behind the pines. She tried to remember the motion picture of images and scenes which had barely reached her through the befogged rough lens of her brain. If she closed her eyes, the dreams might fall again behind the counter of memory, lost in dust and chaos. She summoned them tensely, trying to pin them against the brightening window so that she might inspect them and give them meaning. But the very effort caused the evanescent phantasms to slip away, as unnoticed hours of happiness slip away leaving emptiness in their trail. She rose, as the sun-afraid of the immensity of the sky — was gathering scarves of fog to narrow down the blue steppes; or was it compassion for men that caused him to veil his too glorious face from their littleness? Men have died from seeing the face of destiny . . . but Rania would not die. It would be too easy to fade away and cease to remember one's name. The name must be uttered, in purity, in solemn strength. She felt the silence thunder it forth. That was the awesome, inescapable event, the seed of all the fantastic nightdreams. She had heard the name of her destiny. She had been utterer and recipient. Within her being, all was connected now. That she could remember, even if the name itself seemed lost. Not lost though . . . each year, or cycle of years, would sound out one of its letters. Living had to reveal to consciousness the fullness of the mystery which dreams only reflect, a moonlike unsteady glow of remembrance.
As she opened her door to go downstairs, Hilda was standing with strange troubled eyes, imploring, feverish. Why was she up so early? Rania asked. Was she not well? Hilda shrugged her shoulders. No, she did not sleep. She could not sleep. She could not stop thoughts coming and going, aimless mob. Rania looked at her intently. There was something tense and tragic in the girl. She had the over-focused, yet unsteady, look of uncontrollable passion, or fanaticism. It had become more and more accentuated during the last weeks; but this morning — was it lack of sleep? It glowed ominously. She struggled to veil it with a smile, a joke; but she stammered, and Boris's name jumped out of her throat, a wild horse spurred by a passionate rider. So, there was the strain center. Boris! Boris! . . . How did Rania like him? His voice? He certainly did not soften his answers to foolish questions . . . Boris! Boris!
Rania answered little. She was facing Hilda intently. She was trying to sink herself into the soul shattered by feverish emotional waves. She had to know. She had to feel the hurt; perhaps she could soothe it, or guide it toward creative transmutations. She tried not to think, but to vibrate up and down the scale until she would hit the spot of resonance, where she would be tuned to Hilda's magnetic storm and, absorbing such resonance, could realize the full meaning and the source of the upheaval.
They prepared coffee on the electric stove, toast. Hilda felt chilly. These awful fogs, would they never stop? The sun was all obscured now. Was the face of destiny too strong? Too strong releases of power shatter the weak steel. The blood of men is not well tempered. Its iron turns too red, too fiercely hot; or it stiffens in cold rigidity making the life brittle, Nervousness . . . and some deep pulling wound. The heart contracts. The universe seen through it takes distorted shapes, an unfocused lens image. Suddenly a great pain and lassitude invaded Rania. Hilda had left to get wood for the fire. The room felt dreadfully empty. All the things in it hurt in angular resentment. There was too much power everywhere. The things could not stand it. Hilda could not stand it. Must little destinies be jolted out of harmony, where great destinies flare into combustion? Must the fire scorch their thin covering, baring them to the winds of astral destruction? The tragedy of it!
Rania felt like laughing, bitterly, sneeringly. Such a pitiless, brutal life! Such a comedy, too! For one moment she hated Boris, hated herself. Such foolishness to talk big words, spirituality, progress, compassion! The simplest thing of life meant always more or less death to someone. One could not move, breathe, feel, love without destroying some harmony, murdering some forms of joy, contentment, some poor human dream of beauty! And to what end? God, to what end? . . . if only the end were clear. But no, mirages always, dreams, hallucinations, which the mind takes hold of, as building stones! Hallucinations, hallucinations all. She laughed. The laugh rang so hoarse, so sinister that Hilda, who had just crossed the doorstep, became frightened, let the logs drop. One fell upon her foot. She screamed with pain, yet ran to Rania, trembling, weeping. "What is it, Rania?"
In a flash Rania saw the whole situation; she felt the hurt toes; the girl's body quivered in her own; the strained mind, the long repressed fermenting emotions were hitting against her own heart. It was pitiful, tragic, useless. What to do? What to do? She took Hilda in her arms, smiled on her as on a baby at the breast who beats with little raving fists. She forced her to take off her shoe. She poured cold water, some soothing unguent. She felt Hilda tremble as she held her leg firmly, bandaging the foot. She looked at her eyes; they were distant, tense, almost revulsed.
Boris came again for dinner. Yes, he had had a very fine day, mostly of rest. He had been touring so much, lecturing through so many states, always going, talking, shaking hands, receiving confessions, answering questions, pouring himself, resisting the suction of unsteady minds and emotional womanhood, yet not resisting, being open, flowing outward. It felt good now, such cool pine-rest and the effulgent white sand on which he had lain for hours in the half-sun in a glow of ultraviolet light reverberated from sand to mist.
Mrs. Falkner guiltily enumerated for him several invitations for lunch, teas, picnics which the phone had brought during the day. He laughed. Of course rest was always meant as a relative figure of speech. He would accept all, do what he could. Soon he was perhaps to begin the writing of some long books which he had in mind for a year or two, but had had no time to concentrate upon. Perhaps Carmel would be the place — he glanced at Rania, who avoided him. Perhaps conditions would be favorable. He had felt already the tremendous power of the coast, of rocks and trees and winds. He had sensed things of the past. There must be a meaning in it all. If we knew the history of old continents, of immensely old civilizations, we would know fully.
He told about the universal traditions corroborated by modern geologists concerning the old Pacific or Lemurian continent. He had found many references to it while in India, in Java and other islands. It had been said that a few portions of the California coast had been parts of that continent, its eastern coast then. Obviously to him Carmel and the surroundings must be one of such remnants of the most archaic land, disappeared perhaps millions of years ago. When such fragments of lands remain, it is because they were especially important magnetic centers of the old continent. Perhaps great cities, or temples, or occult retreats had been built there. Though these be destroyed now, the very soil is still penetrated by the very powers of old, revitalized under the sway of some recurring cycle.
Mrs. Falkner questioned, interrupted him. Her acquaintance with Eastern and occult literature made it easy for her to enter into the spirit of such ideas. Her mind was active and reliable. She had deliberately drawn a veil upon her past. Now she lived for the joy of knowledge, the stimulation of great books into which flowed all her love-nature. She knew perhaps that the magic circle she had thus drawn around herself was somewhat of a shell, but she was always eager to look outward from it through well-devised windows, which besides would bring more light into the room of her loving.
Boris Khsantianoff was to her such a window. She had felt at once as she met him that here was a man in whom knowledge was alive and real; a man who did not look at men from the pages of worshiped books or the summit of some remote mountain, but who was passing through an intense and, she sensed, rather tumultuous life extracting universal meanings, sending forth a straight message of noble living and continuing in some way some old chain of influence, now rousing a new vitality, a new courage in those who were ready to listen. Intellectually, she was curious to know how he had reached that point, to know his teachers, the influences which made him what he was. Intellectually. At the bottom of her heart she was slightly jealous and slightly afraid he might be a little upsetting to her tranquility and her peaceful studies.
She would not admit, of course, that she was jealous or envious. Yet there was in her this queer biting feeling that he was a living exponent of truths of which she only knew the wording in books. She was conscious enough of her own little selfishness in being comfortable to resent subtly the fact that he did not seem to care about any moral and mental comfort, but was living a hazardous, dangerous, self-denying life. She knew she dared not live such a life. She felt condemned in herself by herself, because of the mere fact of his being what he was. Her personal pride was hurt; even though she was profoundly devoted to the ideals Boris expounded and sincerely admired his work and his nature.
Hilda was silent. At times she stared at Boris almost violently, as if she wanted to tear his being open and do something to him, anything — love him, hate him, destroy him, kiss him, but something to make him feel that she was there, that he had to take account of her, had to be disturbed, and be different from himself, be something that she would have made him be. Then she would glance at Rania who looked at Boris with wide eyes, drawn in, very quiet, very silent — yet avoiding him, as if hurt, the moment he would turn to her. And in Hilda's look there crept a strange hollow light, light of blinded eyes, light which could see no more light, but only dream it from remembrance . . . something burnt out, sad and desperate, made almost cruel by the twisting of the mouth that told tales of repressed pain and bitter suppression.
And so the evening passed. An early departure, after a couple of friends had called and greeted Khsantianoff. Human beings drawn in together within manmade walls, symbols perhaps of greater enclosements of destiny; human beings struggling, caught in a slow chemistry of emotions, of yearnings, of dissatisfactions, of whirring minds — test tubes for combinations of tense and fervent wills.
Time grinds, pulverizes. Time, and the heat of soul and body energy aroused by proximity and contacts, work steadily, pushing the operation to its mysterious conclusion. The great chemist whose mind has mastered the molecular laws of life may have calculated wisely the ultimate reactions. But beyond these laws there lies the realm of man the free. Free not to alter the unavoidable events, but to give them the meaning he wills, the meaning he is. Free to use the explosive energy of power generating, fateful and cyclic commixtures, for the all or for the self. For if power is of nature, the use of power is of man. In that lies man's destiny.
The night was clear, speared by stars. The moon was haloing tall pines. It threw shadows on the dirt roads of Carmel, scarred by rains, pelted with cracking needles. Boris passed by his little cottage at the end of San Antonio and walked toward the sands. They shone like phosphorescent substance. They were cold to the feet. They were soft and sinuous, giving in to the stamping of the man's walk. Tomorrow though, the wind would blow and what would remain of the manmade hollows? What does ever remain? . . . Boris felt disturbed and saddened. He sensed the weight of the inescapable on his life, the pressure of destiny upon his heart.
"Stop," said the firm hand, "and listen. Death balances life, action, re-action. Souls have converged, to be equated into new and vaster destiny. Past and future. The present fluctuates. It wants meaning to become eternal." What meaning?
Boris walks along the shore. Huge breakers curve and fall. They hit violently the sands. In their wake, the sands are smooth and pure, virginal, remade into the likeness of infinite space. Life is a pounding sea upon the molecules of soul. Each molecule is a past, the shell or seed of lives we were. One after the other they have been drawn ashore above the sea, above life into consciousness. On these soul-shores, sun and moon beat, and events stamp their steps. But the tides surge with cyclic grandeur, with waves of destiny making men whole anew; the marks of events, makers of impermanent selfhood, are washed away. Who among men know themselves as shores, rather than as little hollows ploughed by events and softened by winds? Who among men are welcoming the sea, destroyer of hollows and of names? Who among men know themselves as the sea, maker of shores, womb of lives, sands of tomorrow?
Boris sinks himself into a dream, into a soul. She surges with the sea; she is the sea; she hammers at the shore of his selfhood; she is torn against rocks, against the compact mob of prenatal humanity. Beautiful strong singing soul. He sees the lineaments of a glorious form of self, in which is power and endurance, compassion for the age. He watches it shrink into a broken frame, which men call Rania. It faces him. It is an interrogation, a probing, a sounding. How deep is he, Boris Khsantianoff, whom men applaud, respect, and women yearn for self-deliverance and motherhood? How deep and pure, the pool that reflects light and gives comfort to thirsting ones? It is easy to be pure where nature sways in rhythms of bounty and innocence. But the cities — these dark, bleak, morbid brothels of wanderers and lost souls! To go through, to dwell in them, to accept them, yet be pure, yet be true to the glorious forms of that other world and dance the fateful deeds of existence with craving souls that fasten upon you with greedy eyes and wound you with their despair, their sucking emptiness and meaninglessness — how difficult, how excruciating.
For four years now he had traveled through America bringing the message his life had grown, like a fruit, during a period of awesome struggle. The weight of these four years seemed almost unbearable. Oh, what longing for repose does come to one in whom has blown for weary months the chill of commercial cities and frozen egos! Repose, repose of which he had seen glorious relics in Asiatic lands . . . repose at the breast of dreams wherein sings the fullness and untouched splendor of self . . . repose, perhaps, within the tenderness of beloved eyes and kind hands that weave a cloak of silence and peace round the bruised soul, the parched consciousness. Men are such fools when they dream of love! Like children whose limbs crave gestures, they distort "being" into "making" love, into fallacious motions in which there is no soul.
Boris wandered back in front of Rania's home. All was silent, dark windows. Could he not pierce through the walls, pierce through the flesh-covers of these three beings and behold their true stations, and their self-made fates to which he knew himself bound — for what consummation? Perhaps he could. He had been taught releases of consciousness which might bare to him the inner beings of the sleeping ones. But no, it could not be done; it ought not to be done. This body was the field to work out destiny — for him. Some day perhaps the other doors would fully and legitimately open. Today the duty was here, the test was here. He would face it in stoic calm, in complete sincerity and openness.
That night Rania saw in dream a great white-clad figure approach her as she was bending over the earth near a tree. It was glowing with fire and seemed to carry with it the hot breath of deserts. Behind it, as in a mirage, she could discern oases, lakes with strange structures, tall men with majestic mien. The mirage seemed to be like one of these images formed in the air by experimental lenses. The white figure was the lens; somehow she was the inverted reflection. It was not clear. But there was in her a sense of elation, of having become many, of having absorbed many, of being the image of some great concourse — narrowed down, blurred, still a true image. Between image and reality stood the tall man who, she felt, was Boris, though there was so much light radiating from the face that she could see no definite features. He began to intone curious words that sounded as from some other world, sounds that grew into shapes and lights crowded with the onrush of elemental force that sought entrance into her. She hesitated a moment, then tore her own clothes that hung heavily. And suddenly she began to glow. The outlines of her body lost themselves in waves of radiance. Streams of fire sprang up from her loins. They tore through her body, struck her head that ached with excruciating pain. She cried:
"I am going blind! I cannot! I cannot! "
The light and images disappeared; only two deep grey eyes, full of sadness and silence were fixed upon her. They slowly became dim and closed.
The following day she told Mrs. Falkner she wanted to speak to Boris alone. She would walk to his house across the road. Mrs. Falkner looked at her, inquiringly, then said:
"All right" I am sure he will be glad to talk to you. He said nice things about you."
"What did he say?" Rania exclaimed.
"I have forgotten the words. He inquired about your accident. We told him how brave you had been and he seemed deeply moved and sympathetic."
Rania bowed her head, smiled a little and slowly moved across the road, her body weighing upon the crutches.
She stopped at the cottage's entrance. A small wooden gate was covered with wild roses, untrimmed. Tall lupins were crowding around the rustic walls. She could hear the wood crackling in the fireplace through the half-opened window. Boris was walking up and down the studio-room slowly, meditatively, with bent shoulders, closed eyes. He must have felt some presence, as he suddenly turned around and glanced through the window. She walked on and met him as he opened the door. A strange joyous look shone in his face.
"Welcome! It is lovely of you to come. Did you walk alone?"
Certainly, she was feeling strong these days. She craved exercise. Perhaps some day she might be well enough to walk without the awful wooden sticks. He inquired intently upon the condition of her legs. Was there any hope that she might dispense with her crutches? She really did not know. Her doctor thought in a year or so another operation might be attempted. She was trying to get strong, then would go to Chicago or New York to consult surgeons who were known to have accomplished remarkable cures.
For a while they were silent. She was staring at the moving fire. It reminded her of her dream. It became very vivid, sharp. She could almost feel again the scorching of the up-reaching flame that shattered her. Boris was sitting, leaning against a table, his hands somewhat nervously playing with papers. Then without lifting her glance from the burning wood, she said in slow almost inaudible tones:
"There has been fire, too, in my body that has burned me. It has torn through me. It has brought me pain, much pain. People call it fever, call it love, call it . . . I do not know what. But I know it is fire. It has come again." Her voice rose a little. "It has come again, because of you. And you know it." She turned facing him.
A little startled, his eyes widened.
"You have brought me fire once more, but another fire. There is nothing more to break in my body; so it burns my soul now, it burns my dreams; it burns all of me, Boris. And you know it! You know it! Don't you?"
Yes, he knew. He had felt there must come some arousal out of their meeting. When he had first seen her in her faint, almost gone, he had realized at once that they were both parts of one single reality, group, brotherhood . . . names mattered little. He had watched her. He had felt the rich pulse of her life. Perhaps they had a mission together, a duty to fulfill.
"I know you, Rania. I know you are strong and brave. I know you have suffered much and loved much. I can read many lines of your face, and perhaps the halo of your whole being. But what I cannot read, because I would not want to even if I could, is: what does it mean to you that I have come, that you have entered — this room? There are meanings that are rich with power and truth; others that destroy. What new meaning can you give to that fire which you say is now burning you?"
Rania looked straight in his eyes. Something poignant was tearing through her. It swelled into the space between them. It made it heavy, tense; it made minutes stagger, insensible of duration. Her voice answered almost automatic, white, toneless: "My meaning shall be your meaning."
His mouth contracted; a smile perhaps, perhaps pain. He arose. He
stood straight against the fire. His face became very grave, very solemn. It trembled a little as he answered: "May our meaning be true, Rania"
For a long while she kept her head bowed as under the weight of a Visitation; then she lifted it up, a little shaking, an open question raised to the sun of an accepted certainty, which nevertheless had not yet penetrated the entire consciousness. "How can we know the truth and be sure?"
Boris smiled. He took in his hands her fingers that trembled. "The truth is that which we are able to experience fully, creatively. There is no absolute truth, but every moment has its own sanctuary in which life celebrates its mystery, which is the endless birth of truth."
The silence became solemn as if growing out of some mystical ceremony in which presences were communing. A voice murmured words which tongues hardly uttered, words which seeped through heart chambers into this world of strange conflagrations.
"I dedicate my life to the highest truth that is my destiny. I consecrate my life to the service of all. I am my destiny. I am my truth. May we both become the fullness of this truth which calls us to union, in freedom and joy! May we fulfill together our greatest destiny!"
Rania bowed her head caressed by the dancing phantasmagoria of the fire. Strong, rugged logs were melting in the embrace of the greater reality; and this embrace was radiance. Boris pressed her hands, which had known how to accept destiny in the fullness of moments intensely lived. The race in her had been broken; her body, splintered, maimed by the pressure of a passion whose roots were deep into long ancestral pasts. But the invisible race also called, toward the future, to equate the past with this future.
A dedication had appeared, had struck the resonant substance of this moment, rich beyond all earthly passion. She saw its outlines glowing in the burning logs, in Boris's deep eyes lighted by other flames, intangible and pure. Yes, she would offer her life to its greatest destiny. Words rose from her lips, words majestic with acceptance, with serenity and vision.
Silence fell beyond the words. Where there is little separateness left, words suffice to break the walls, to cause the commixture of the life fluids of the souls. On their quivering trail the peace of completion sweeps like a great wing of stars. It infinitizes two souls into wholeness.